Despite the fact that it’s a controversial stance, a coalition of Latino groups has come out publicly in support of disgraced Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and his wife, Venezuelan telenovela actress Eliana Lopez.
Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to false imprisonment in March after a New Year’s Eve argument that left Lopez with a bruised arm. Soon after, Mayor Ed Lee began proceedings to remove Mirkarimi from office for official misconduct. The Ethics Commission is currently considering whether to recommend that the supervisors remove their former colleague from office.
The Comite de Padres Unidos, a parents’ group that helps immigrants; a notable immigration lawyer; and a Mission District business group have come out in support of Mirkarimi. Jorge Garcias, president of the Latin Business Network and Community, a Mission District neighborhood group, said he supports the couple because he feels the mayor has a personal vendetta against Mirkarimi.
Garcias and popular radio host Marcos Gutierrez organized a fundraiser to buy Lopez an airplane ticket to return to San Francisco from Venezuela so she could testify in her husband’s defense.
They have penned editorials, attended Ethics Commission hearings to show support and contributed to the fund for Lopez’ airfare.
“What we want is for the sheriff to do his job,” said Silvia Ramirez, a committee member who is a survivor of domestic abuse. “We want his rights to be respected, especially here in a progressive city like San Francisco.”
Committee member Lupita Siordia told El Mensajero, a Bay Area Spanish-language newspaper, that the system has disempowered Lopez.
“As a woman, also an immigrant with children, I understand Eliana. She was never given the opportunity to speak. That woman Madison made decisions for her and created a political game along with the mayor,” Siordia said, referencing Ivory Madison, López’s neighbor who released a video of Lopez to the police without her consent.
Their stance is different from that of groups like La Casa de Las Madres, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of domestic violence and has not only denounced Mirkarimi but even launched a billboard campaign against domestic violence that refers to the case. Supporters of Mirkarimi contend that the billboards were paid for by his political opponents.
The Latino groups that support Mirkarimi are concerned about possibly losing an ally who supports immigrants’ rights.
“The most important thing is that the sheriff was elected fair and square by the voters of this city,” Siordia told El Mensajero. “I am a citizen and I voted for the sheriff after having studied my options very well. He is the only one who is against Secure Communities and wants to reform the jail system because of the injustices that exist, because of how bad it is.”
Immigration lawyer Mark Silverman joined the coalition after talking with Ramirez. Silverman told the newspaper that he is conflicted because of the allegations of domestic violence.
“Everything is a matter or proportion,” Silverman told El Mensajero. “He himself [Mirkarimi] said he did something wrong. The issue is to balance it out and put it in perspective. This crime that he committed, that I would say is domestic violence at a minor level, is bad enough to be discredited as sheriff.” Removal from office would be disproportionate punishment, he said.
He also wants Mirkarimi to keep his post because of his stance on immigrants’ rights.
“Ross Mirkarimi has taken a position in his campaign to protect the rights of the people in jail, not just Latinos, against abuse from the police system and mainly has taken a position against cooperating with ICE,” Silverman said.